Law & Courts

Lawsuit Challenges Department’s Gender-Equity Rules

By Joetta L. Sack — January 23, 2002 2 min read
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A group of wrestling coaches and university groups claims in a lawsuit filed last week that the Department of Education has instilled discrimination against men’s sports teams into its interpretation of the federal Title IX law.

In the suit filed against the agency in federal court here on Jan. 16, the National Wrestling Coaches Association and organizations representing students and alumni at three universities argue that a 1996 rule by the Education Department was adopted illegally and is unconstitutional. That rule, in part, says that schools must count actual athletes, not spots available on teams, to prove gender equity.

To comply with that rule, some schools have been forced to cut men’s sports teams to ensure proportionate numbers of male and female athletes, the plaintiffs say.

Forcing “a male athlete off a team or cutting an entire men’s team solely because not enough female athletes have an interest in athletics is gender discrimination per se—with absolutely no corresponding benefit to women,” the lawsuit charges.

The suit does not challenge Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, passed by Congress to ensure that schools and colleges receiving federal funds were giving equal educational and athletic opportunities to both men and women. Many individual lawsuits have been unsuccessfully brought against the universities that cut men’s teams, but the one filed last week targets the Education Department and its 1996 regulation.

“We hope this lawsuit will lead to a more reasonable way to enforce Title IX, one that protects women without harming men,” said Mike Moyer, the executive director of the wrestling coaches’ association, based in Lancaster, Pa.

Discrimination or Not?

The plaintiffs include students and alumni from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. The school decided last year to eliminate its men’s wrestling team and downgraded men’s crew to intramural status, to comply with Title IX rules, said spokesman Jon Terry. Groups representing wrestling teams eliminated or downgraded at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Yale University are also plaintiffs.

The Education Department does not comment on pending litigation, said Rodger Murphey, a spokesman. But some women’s groups contend that the lawsuit is unfounded, and could undermine what they regard as a much-needed anti-discrimination law.

Officials of the National Women’s Sports Foundation, based in East Meadow, N.Y., maintained that some men’s teams had suffered because schools had simply chosen to spend more money on teams seen as popular moneymakers rather than keeping teams that did not bring in profits or large crowds.

A university’s decision to cut a team is “a competitive-status decision that may result in less men’s or women’s teams, not a decision that discriminates on the basis of gender,” Donna Lopiano, the foundation’s executive director, said in a statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2002 edition of Education Week as Lawsuit Challenges Department’s Gender-Equity Rules

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